Voluntary Childlessness: Seven Asian Women Share Their Stories

Introduction: This article is translated from the Tatler Asia article "Being Childfree By Choice: 7 Asian Women Share Their Stories" by Kate Appleton. Published on July 12, 2021. Seven successful Asian women without children share their thoughts on procreation.

More and more women are choosing not to become mothers, so we spoke to women in Asia to understand the reasons behind this choice and the cultural norms they have to confront.

Many women are familiar with the unsolicited opinions about their bodies, and for women of childbearing age, choosing to be childfree still invites unpleasant questions and judgments. Some people even label them as selfish or not real women.

However, looking at the news, voluntary childlessness is becoming increasingly normalized. In Singapore, despite government policies encouraging childbirth, the fertility rate for each woman is only 1.2. The birth rate in Hong Kong reached a historic low in 2020 at 0.87, and don't expect this situation to change soon; according to a survey by the Hong Kong Women Development Association, more than half of women do not want children, citing financial pressure, long working hours, and limited housing as reasons.

Sociologist Sandy To agrees that these are issues faced by regions like Hong Kong, but also believes that these surveys and news reports overlook a crucial consideration: "They need to consider women who may simply not want children."

So we decided to contribute ourselves. We interviewed successful women to hear their perspectives on being childfree, ranging in age from 25 to 65. Their stories are inspiring, showcasing different paths and choices in life apart from becoming mothers. As for the critics? Malaysian entrepreneur Raudhah Nazran says, "Keep moving forward and ignore them."

"I always wanted a life partner; having children wasn't the reason for that."#


Photo by: Pat Dwyer

Pat Dwyer, 41, Founder and Director of The Purpose Business, Hong Kong

I was raised by a single mother who made me believe I could do anything; she raised me with that "you and me against the world" feeling. She wanted children more than she wanted a partner, but I was the opposite.

As a Filipino, I got married late at 31, which was 11 months after I met Chris. On our first date, I didn't want to waste time. I told him that if he wanted children, I wasn't the right person for him. I knew what I wanted for myself, and his life wasn't driven by having children either. I found someone who fit me on many levels.

But there were people who criticized me, saying, "You've been blessed with so much, how dare you not want children?" Some even said, "Well, I see you have your own career, which is understandable, but maybe you should have a real job first and then consider having children." It's unbelievable. You're insulting all entrepreneurs and all childfree women entrepreneurs. But there were also some nice things said, surprisingly pleasant.

Is it because I'm childfree that I can sustain my work more consistently? Maybe, I have a colleague with three children. Because I don't have that responsibility, I have enough space to pursue my passions, including collaborating with the non-profit organization Enrich to improve the lives of Filipino women. Although I love other people's children, I'm also very happy to come back to my childfree home.

"Being childfree has brought my husband and me closer."#


Photo by: Elaine Lim-Chan

Elaine Lim-Chan, 49, Managing Director of Deutsche Bank Wealth Management, Singapore

My family is very close-knit. My sister and I chat every day, and my husband and I see her daughter several times a week. When I was accepted into an expensive American university, I worked hard to show gratitude to my parents.

I'm a perfectionist; I want to do everything well. One reason I don't want children is because I work hard. I take care of some ultra-high-net-worth families in Asia, and to gain and maintain their trust, I need to put in a lot of work.

I also want to ensure a balance between work and life, not forgetting myself and my husband, and when you have children, they become the center of everything. My husband and I decided not to have children, and it has brought us closer. Our relationship doesn't need children to sustain it, and we don't take each other for granted. We can also immerse ourselves in our own hobbies. One of my hobbies is driving; I am the first and only female president of the Singapore Ferrari Owners' Club.

My parents live with us, but you can't guarantee that your children will take care of you when you're old, and I remind my friends of that. You need to take responsibility for the decisions you make.

"Life becomes exciting when you're not constrained by tradition and maternal norms."#


Photo by: Jeannie Javelosa

Jeannie Javelosa, 58, Founder of ECHOstore and GREAT Women, Manila, Philippines

I was with my previous partner for 25 years; he was 20 years older than me and separated from his first wife (divorce is illegal in the Philippines). My family pressured me to leave him because it went against cultural norms, but I followed my heart. Besides my social work, I also read soul destinies, read images in astrology, and share insights about life.

It's unfair to label voluntarily childless women as selfish because we each have our own life paths. I know some people don't want children because they have been abandoned by their own parents to some extent, so they don't want to burden their children with their own healing. In my reading experiences, I have seen too many women tormented by their own mothers—mothers who try to control their children's lives or demand conformity.

Now I have a younger partner, 41, whom I met at an ayahuasca retreat, and he may want a child in the future. If that happens, it may require a surrogate mother. It's a very modern way of considering motherhood. I think we need to redefine the definition of women and mothers because my work brings me true fulfillment, and there are many aspects of my work that embody motherhood. For our community and some people on this planet, I am also nurturing in some way.

"I cherish my freedom and feeling that my body belongs to me."#


Photo by: Tungtungtung Photography

Sonia Wong, 32, Gender Studies Lecturer and Co-founder of Women's Festival, Hong Kong

My father's family is from Chaozhou, where gender norms are conservative, but my parents were proud to have two daughters. They gave me a lot of encouragement and the opportunity to explore the life I wanted, so I never felt limited to one path.

Since I was around 18 or 20, I have been sure that I don't want children—I'm very certain, and I'm even planning to get my fallopian tubes ligated. My boyfriend is very supportive and knows I can do it, which gives me a great sense of autonomy. However, compared to men, it's much more difficult for women to get sterilized, especially when you're young and childless.

I know some childless couples, but society is more accepting when it's a mutual decision between a couple rather than a woman's decision alone. Even a progressive-minded friend suggested I wait, maybe I'll suddenly want children in the future. It's like saying as an independent woman, I can't be sure of what I want? It shows how deeply rooted the idea of viewing women's bodies as reproductive bodies is in people's minds.

When my university students become mothers, I explain that I will never want to be a mother myself—I see these children every day. I change the world by changing people's minds, so my legacy won't be a child, but many children.

"Not having children doesn't make you lack maternal instincts or empathy."#


Photo by: Rumki Fernandes

Rumki Fernandes, 51, Chief HR and Talent Officer at Grey Group, Singapore

Many girls enjoy playing with dolls and playing house, but I don't have those memories. I never really thought about becoming a mother. I loved the feeling of coming home to my mother when I finished school in India; she would be the first to greet me. But I didn't think I was that kind of person.

In my twenties, many of my friends became mothers and struggled. Even if you marry someone with similar values and have a similar career trajectory, it's more likely that the child becomes the mother's responsibility. One person in the couple has to choose the more challenging career and lifestyle, and I'm not inclined to put myself in that position.

I married my college boyfriend, and we found that our life decisions were much easier without the factor of having children. We have worked in India and London and then returned to India, and now we have been in Singapore for eight years. Our work often requires travel, and we also enjoy traveling on holidays, engaging in outdoor activities, and enjoying good food. We even joined the same book club.

We never sat down to have a serious discussion about this; our life seemed fine, and because children were never a priority, we didn't think much about it. In India, people often intervene in their own way, wanting to help, but ultimately interfering with others' lives. In Singapore, it's not a big issue, and it doesn't need to be discussed. Sometimes people we know ask why we don't have children, but I don't think they have a different opinion of us because of it.

"It's okay to have children at 31 or 39, and it's also okay to never have them."#


Photo by Khairul Imran/Tatler Malaysia

Raudhah Nazran, 25, Founder of Accelerate, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

As a Malaysian and a Muslim, people expect me to have an heir for my husband. Luckily, my mother and grandmother are progressive thinkers. If you go to rural communities in our workplace, like Borneo, people have completely different views. That's how culture is; they expect you to get married at 19 or 20 and have children at 21 or 22. If not, you'll be marginalized by the community, and it's really sad.

Accelerate also collaborates with nursing homes, and when I talk to the elderly, they ask, "When are you planning to have children?" and then lecture me, saying it will be troublesome if I don't have them soon. Even distant relatives and friends inquire, so it was a relief this year during Eid when no one visited.

I've been married for only a year, and my husband is European. I agree that there are many things to consider—whether we are financially stable and emotionally ready for children. I think we will have children, but not in the short term. I'm not the kind of person who has children because of societal pressure. I have cut off contact with many closed-minded people, keep moving forward, and ignore them.

"Being single is a kind of happiness because I can fully devote myself to work."#


Photo by: Jessie Sincioco

Jessie Sincioco, 65, Founder of Chef Jessie Restaurants, Manila, Philippines

I loved "The Sound of Music" when I was a child and dreamed of becoming a nun. I am the eldest of six siblings, and I felt a duty to help my parents raise my younger brothers and sisters, which is one reason why I decided to remain single and not have children. In fact, I have been single all my life.

I was mostly raised by my nanny, who was an accountant and loved cooking. She encouraged me to join cooking competitions, and we once won with a mango cake we made together. I won a training course that spanned continents, which opened my eyes. I told myself, "This is what I want, this is where I want to go." Seven years later, I was appointed as the first Filipino pastry chef in all Manila hotels.

Until now, my work is my life, and it's very fulfilling. I have 120 employees who have been with me for a long time, and I'm happy when I know they can afford to build a house or start a family. Did I miss anything in my life? No, I haven't missed anything.

Ownership of this post data is guaranteed by blockchain and smart contracts to the creator alone.